Some Aspects Of Shelter And Evacuation Policy To Meet H Bomb Threat
Publication date 2013
Usage Public Domain Mark 1.0
Topics Fallout, Strath report, Some Aspects of Shelter And Evacuation Policy To Meet The H Bomb Threat, Edward Leader-Williams, Home Office Scientific Advisory Branch, civil defence, civil defense
Some Aspects of Shelter And Evacuation Policy To Meet H Bomb Threat
Declassified Secret 1954 report by Edward Leader-Williams of the U.K. Home Office Scientific Advisory Branch, pointing out how to use a combination of city centre evacuation and blast/fallout sheltering of the evacuated personnel to avoid casualties or coercion in a crisis from five 20 megaton thermonuclear bombs (100 megatons total). The copy of this secret turned into PDF format was the one issued to William Strath (Cabinet War Plans Secretariat) who used it in his March 1955 report "Defence Implications of Fall-Out from a Hydrogen Bomb", which Strath and Sir Normal Brook discussed with Defence Secretary Harold Macmillan on 24 March 1955 (the following quotations from the meeting report are from U.K. National Archives report CAB 130/109, "GEN.491/1st Meeting, Defence Implications of Fall-Out from a Hydrogen Bomb, 24 March 1955"):
"The Meeting first examined the report's proposals on evacuation which were based on the promise that a wider distribution of the population would reduce the number of casualties. ... The meeting were informed that, while it was not possible to provide effective shelter within the vicinity of a hydrogen bomb, it would be practicable to provide adequate shelter against fall-out beyond the area of devastation by blast. Scientific thinking was at present moving towards the view that brick-built houses would give better protection against fallout than had previously been thought. A trench with overhead earth cover would make more effective shelter but it would be a damp and uncomfortable place in which to have to stay until the radio-activity had abated. It was hoped that future research would devise a refuge room giving adequate protection which could be constructed in the ordinary house. If this could be done, house-holders could be advised what steps they could themselves take to secure satisfactory protection."
The Strath report, far from condemning "Protect and Survive" type improvised civil defence for personnel evacuated from the centre of target cities, did the very opposite. This is directly contrary to what many British political academics and historians have chosen to "read into" the Strath report.
By evacuating the central areas of cities near the fireball and crater, and sheltering the evacuated people from the heat (which is largely stopped by the city skyline shadowing effect anyway, except for upper floors of very high buildings, facing the fireball), blast and fallout, all casualties could be avoided, in accurately-placed 20 megaton surface bursts on cities. With the much smaller MIRV warheads (around 200 kt) or terrorist/clandestine threat (around 10 kt) today, the situation is even more positive as based on a re-evaluation of civil defence in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (Since blast waves travel over large distances averaging only about a quarter of a mile per second, there is plenty of time to "duck and cover" to avoid blast wind displacement and flying debris.) On 1 September 1939, two days before Britain declared war, it evacuated children from London. This was partly about sending a deliberate political message or "signal" to the enemy about the seriousness of the ultimatum, and partly as partial insurance against a surprise "knockout blow" air strike. Herman Kahn made the point in 1976 congressional hearings (included in the appended documents to the report linked here) that evacuation and improvised shelter are more credible than surprise attacks, because we have a protected second-strike retaliation capacity (submarines at sea) which takes away any incentive for a nuclear 9/11 or Pearl Harbor type surprise attack. Leader-Williams concludes that even in the worst case, the fatalities in 100 megaton nuclear attack on Britain that tried to target the evacuated (dispersed) population could be kept to 2% of the population by a combination of shelters and evacuation from the crater and fireball or severe blast area, leaving 98% of the population alive. In 1955, Leader-Williams drafted the first U.K. Home Office "Protect and Survive"-type indoor "inner refuge" improvised fallout shielding advice, as documented in detail in Dr Smith's paper, "Architects of Armageddon: the Home Office Scientific Advisers' Branch and civil defence in Britain, 1945-68", British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 43 (2010), pp. 149-80.
Edward Leader-Williams, an engineer, was Lord Baker's assistant during the invention and testing of the indoor "Morrison shelter" in World War II, which proved vital and highly effective against V1 attacks. Other relevant declassified documents are appended. Discussion and links to references: http://glasstone.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/dtriac-dispatch-volume-3-issue-2.html
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